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What is an Advanced Placement Test?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Advanced Placement Test is a test meant to measure where high school students who have taken Advanced Placement courses are in their education, in order to place them in the appropriate classes when they go to college in the U.S. Although intended to work in tandem with special classes, the Advanced Placement Test can be taken by any high school students, including those who are home schooled or part of a charter school. The purpose of the Advanced Placement Test is to allow students who have already acquired a body of knowledge to skip taking introductory college courses which would simply be going over that same information again.

The first Advanced Placement Tests were administered in the 1950s, as a result of a study run by the Ford Foundation. The study found that students in their senior year of high school were in many cases prepared to be taking college-level courses, and that their senior year could best be spent taking at least a handful of college-level courses at their high school to facilitate a more in-depth college experience. Three private high schools participated in the study, along with three colleges. All three of the colleges, Princeton, Harvard, and Yale, found that senior high school students could easily cover much of the material normally covered in a freshman-level college course.

Since 1955, a non-profit group, the College Board, has run the Advanced Placement Test and supported classes to prepare students for taking it. The College Board has guidelines for the classes, and gives a great deal of support to schools and teachers who wish to teach students for the tests. The tests have a fee associated with them, and the bulk of this money goes to the College Board to allow them to support teachers and schools.

Students can take more than 30 different Advanced Placement Tests, in subjects ranging from Physics to European History to Studio Art. Depending on how they do on the tests, universities may allow them to skip pre-requisite classes, or may grant them credit that can count towards required core courses. The tests are graded from one to five, and most colleges accept any ranking of four or five, with a number of colleges also accepting grades of three.

The Advanced Placement Test is also used to determine the College Board’s granting of Scholar Awards, which are titles conferred by the Board to recognize students. Any student with at least three grades of a three or higher is given the title of AP Scholar, four grades of three or higher is an AP Scholar with Honors, and five grades of three or higher is an AP Scholar with Distinction. The title of National AP Scholar is given to a student with a grade of four or more on eight or more exams, and an overall average of at least four.

Some tests are very popular, while others see much less use, in large part due to which courses schools offer. For example, the United States History Advanced Placement Test generally has more than 300,000 test takers, while tests like Japanese Language and Culture or Latin Literature generally have fewer than 10,000. Tests have been added steadily since the test’s inception more than five decades ago, but over time tests have also been dropped if they are not used often enough.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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